After two weeks of rallies, protests, and threats to strike, Harvard custodians reached a tentative, five-year contract agreement with the University on Tuesday night, just an hour and a half before their current contract was set to expire.
Both the union and the University said that they were pleased with the outcome, though the details of the agreement were not immediately released.
Custodial representatives said that the new contract—which has not yet been voted on by the full union—represents a “solid victory” for workers.
“We pretty much won on all of our major issues, more so than we expected,” said Wayne M. Langley, director of higher education for SEIU Local 615, the union that represents Harvard custodial workers.
The University said that the contract gives Harvard custodians generous compensation for their work.
“This package ensures that custodians at Harvard continue to earn well above the standard rate that the union has negotiated for the Boston area while guaranteeing that the University’s custodians have access to an exceptional benefits package,” Harvard Executive Vice President Katherine N. Lapp wrote in a statement.
“I am delighted that we have been able to reach [an] agreement on a new contract that benefits both the University and the people who help to make it one of the world’s premier institutions for research and education,” Lapp wrote.
Negotiation tensions peaked last week, when custodians threatened to strike if the University did not provide what custodians called a “fair and just” contract.
Among their demands were retention of health care benefits, benefit parity between University employees and subcontracted employees, more manageable workloads, and higher wages.
On the final day of negotiations, workers carried signs with slogans such as “Ready to Strike” and “Justice for the 99 Percent” in front of the Loeb Drama Center to show support for their bargaining representatives.
“The point of the rally was to show Harvard that we are united,” said Harvard custodian Walter Martinez.
Langley said that although the union did not attain its desired wage rate, the workers were pleased with the compromise.
“It was very close on our wages,” Langley said. “We didn’t quite get where we wanted, but it was very close. It’s a really good contract.”
Union leaders noted the importance of the “Occupy Harvard” movement in helping custodians achieve their new contract, calling it a “victory for Harvard janitors and the 99%” in a press release immediately following the negotiations.
“This is a real credit to the students. It was so helpful that the students had a social conscience and cared about the lowest paid workers,” Langley said. “I can’t begin to say how important it was that they stepped up on this.”
Union leaders hope that this contract will set an example for similar institutions when negotiating contracts with their workers.
“With Harvard’s reputation as a preeminent institution for higher education, this agreement will be seen as an example for other universities to treat workers with the dignity and respect they deserve,” wrote Local 615 publicist Sarah Betancourt in an e-mailed statement.
—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.